Kids Birthday Parties

Kids birthday party with roses

Summer birthdays for kids can be so fun. We make an effort to keep the parties green, focusing on nature and the experience rather than the stuff. These are a few of the articles we’ve posted on eco birthdays and giving. We hope these help you plan a great birthday party for your little one.

Most of the posts on EcoBabySteps are written by NatureMom (Tamara, who owns bynature.ca) and AttachedMama (Lori, who writes EcoBabySteps). Both of us are figuring out the issues we write about. Both of us have had to find a balance between our desire to celebrate our children’s birthdays in a big way with a preference for natural and eco-friendly celebrations. Meaning, we had to find ways around the waste without birthday parties feeling like lectures in environmentalism.

These are two stories of actual parties each of us created for one of our children. Maybe seeing what we did will help you come up with ideas that fit your child and your family.

Our Eco Birthday Party
Eco birthday party table

When Nature Mom threw a birthday party for her daughter, she worked to lower impact for every aspect of the party. Here she shares the story of what she did and how she did it.

My Daughter’s Eco Super Hero Birthday Party
Gaia Girls elemental circle

On my daughter’s 11th birthday, she and her friends celebrated girl eco-super heroes. My daughter had a Gaia Girls themed birthday party. Gaia Girls is a girls adventure series in which four girls are each approached by Gaia, the living organism of the earth in the form of an otter, to help her. Each of the girls has power over one of the elements: air, fire, water, or earth. Gaia, as an otter, asks each girl to help her by using the elemental power she has. The author joined us by phone, and the girls at the party were treated to a chapter in one of the unpublished books in the series. This is the story of how I made that happen.

Planning the Party

Start with a plan. Will you invite friends or keep birthdays a family celebration. There is no wrong answer. We’ve done both.

Once my kids could talk (starting with the 2nd birthdays), I asked them what they wanted. I built themes around a buffalo, alligators, a little stone cottage, rock climbing, trains, and a lot of other ideas. Each of these became a homemade cake, and the party grew from that core idea.

Here are a few ideas we have posted on themes and core ideas for children’s birthday parties.

Creative Family Birthday Celebrations
Family birthday celebration

Holidays and birthdays are opportunities to celebrate the familiar—the family-ar, as in, those ideas and those people who are so close to us that they are part of our intimate circle. For a lot of us who are focused on attachment parenting, those intimate family relationships are the core of our motivation for all of these choices. We are creating our children’s reality. We are setting a pattern for what our children will celebrate as familiar.

8 Fun and Free Places to Hold a Birthday Party
Kids meeting a horse

Cut down on children’s birthday party expenses by finding a place to hold that party that doesn’t charge an entrance or event fee. New places may suggest fun themes and activities beyond the usual party games. Even if you do the usual games and cake, going to a new and exciting place can be an adventure that makes the party memorable.

1st Birthday Themes for Babies
Baby's first birthday

Babies have a lot going on around the time of their first birthdays. Many speak their first words and take their first steps near their birthdays. They are busy! A birthday party will be a new experience. Frankly, first birthday parties are more ABOUT the baby than for the baby. To have the best chance that your baby will actually enjoy the party, keep it short and simple.

Toddler Birthday Party Ideas
Toddler birthday party

Toddlers are ready to have a good time. Even those children who would rather sit on their mothers’ laps during a party will often have a good time observing the fun from that safe spot. The secret to a successful birthday party for toddlers is flexibility. Have a plan B and plan C to accommodate the ever changing moods of your little guests.

Birthday Party Themes for the Imaginative Young Child
Child pirate

Between the ages of 5 and 8 years old, children are immersed in imaginative play. They love dress up, and they don’t look for direction from adults in creating their characters. A birthday party for young children should take full advantage of this phase. Give the children plenty of chance to be the characters, to tell the story, and to make up the party as they go.

Older Children Provide Their Own Birthday Party Ideas
Children rock climbing wall

As children get older, between 9 and 12 years old, I have found they want birthday parties about their interests, whether those interests are friends or activities. You may not need to think through a focused birthday party theme or a predictable structure like you did when your children were younger.

Birthday Party Workshops for Teens
Teen doing aerial dance

By the time your child is a teenager, the cute themes are over. (So, take advantage and enjoy it while they are little!) If you have used your own child’s interests to give shape to parties every year, that will make it even easier to do the same for teens. For a birthday party that engages teens, start with your child’s passion.

Birthday Gifts

Do your kids anticipate birthday gifts? I start hearing plans and requests for birthday gifts at least 6 months in advance. We tend to save big gifts, like a bike or skates or a musical instrument, for holidays. This year my teenage son wanted a suit! As long as I listen closely, I can usually find a way to give them something they hoped for as well as adding a twist that surprises and delights them.

We try to de-emphasize stuff, though. The biggest gift in our family is for everyone to take the day off of work or school or any other obligations and do what the birthday person wants to do. This often involves movies and ice cream, but sometimes we go for day trips and hikes. Whatever they request, we do our best to make it happen. Birthdays are dreams-come-true days for us.

Reusable Gift Wrap
Reusable birthday gift wrap

We my family started showing up at holidays and birthdays with gifts in cloth bags, it didn’t take long to convince our extended family that this was a great idea. This is a holiday post, but I find it relevant for birthdays as well. This is how we manage not to use only reusable wrapping for gifts.

10 Ways to Give without Stuff
Teen knitting wool scarves

This is another holiday post, but I thought you might find the giving ideas helpful for birthdays. I interviewed my daughter for the post, as I do for a lot of posts. These ideas were based on her ideas and our brainstorms.

My Rules of the Eco-friendly Loot Bag
Girl with a birthday party bag

Has your child ever come home from a birthday party with a bag of candy and throwaway plastic toys? Is there really anyone who can say “No!” to that? I’ve even seen myself give out party gifts that make me groan and feel more determined than ever to improve the loot bag with each passing year. Every time I throw a children’s party, I manage to get a little closer to the ideal of a low-impact loot bag. These are my evolving rules of the eco-friendly kids’ party bag.

Allergy-free Birthday Cakes
Baby with a birthday cake

For both of my children, their first birthday cakes were their first solid foods. That means all at once they covered their faces with milk, eggs, wheat, and other potential food allergens. A lot of us take the chance that our baby won’t have a reaction or sensitivity to birthday cake even if we are careful introducing new foods slowly otherwise. If you are introducing your baby to new foods at a birthday party, at least simplify the birthday cake recipe to reduce the number of potential food allergens.

Reusable Birthday Party Supplies

Parties can generate a lot of garbage. If you want to avoid that, you can move toward reusable supplies like cups and plates as well as decorations like garlands and hats.

You will find a lot of reusable party supplies in the bynature.ca store in our Green Celebrations department: candles, decorations, games, and a few great gifts for a green loot bag.

Waldorf Birthday Rings
Wooden birthday ring

Have you seen Waldorf birthday rings and wondered how they work? I explain this beautiful family tradition to help you get started. Then, year after year you will spiral back around as you focus on your birthday child.

Party Hats
Reusable birthday party hat

Where did the tradition of party hats come from? I did a little research.

Happy birthday to all the children of summer! Drop in to bynature.ca and ask how we can help you green your birthday parties this year.

Image ©  | Dreamstime.com

A Month of Green Birthdays

Girls playing with silk streamers

Just like you, I try to lower the environmental impact of my family, including our celebrations. I’ve been so excited about all of the reusable birthday party supplies in the Green Celebrations department of bynature.ca that I spent a whole month writing about it. March (and a bit of April) has been a month of birthdays.


Birthday Party Themes

The first step in planning a birthday party is the theme. It is the structure that we use to hold it all together. My advice through every age is to work with your child’s specific interests and build on those to make a fun party for all.

Baby birthday party
For 1-year olds – 1st Birthday Themes for Babies

Toddler at his birthday party
For 2- to 4-year olds – Toddler Birthday Party Ideas

Young boy dressed as a pirate
For 4- to 8-year olds – Birthday Party Themes for the Imaginative Young Child

Children on rock climbing wall
For 8- to 12-year olds – Older Children Provide Their Own Birthday Party Ideas

Teenager on trapeze
For teens – Birthday Party Workshops for Teens


Very Cool Products from bynature.ca

We have a lot of great party supplies and birthday decorations at bynature.ca. I highlighted a few and told a bit of the history beyond the traditions. I thought I would cover a lot more about birthday traditions, but it turns out that many of those party traditions we have all participated in since we were children ourselves aren’t quite as interesting as I had hoped. Believe me, you should be relieved that I didn’t end up writing about birthday candles.

Waldorf birthday ring
Waldorf Birthday Rings

Reusable birthday party hat for children
Party Hats


Stories of Real Birthday Parties

Nature Mom and I have both made our own efforts to lower our party impact. Our success has generally come in raising our children with expectations about celebration more than about stuff. We make their days special with what we do not in what everyone gets (then quickly throws away).

Eco birthday party table
Our Eco Birthday Party by Nature Mom

Gaia Girls Logo
My Daughter’s Eco Super Hero Birthday Party


Eco Birthday Baby Steps

Don’t worry about creating the perfect party. Take the steps you are ready to take, and catch another step for the next party. Taking Eco Baby Steps isn’t about perfection. It’s about the constant process of raising your own and your family’s awareness of how you live.

Child with party favor goodie bag
My Rules of the Eco-friendly Loot Bag

Children petting horses
8 Fun and Free Places to Hold a Birthday Party

Eating first birthday cake
Allergy-free Birthday Cakes

Family birthday with cake
Creative Family Birthday Celebrations

See original posts for image credits.

Creative Family Birthday Celebrations

Family birthday celebration for young boy

Holidays and birthdays are opportunities to celebrate the familiar—the family-ar, as in, those ideas and those people who are so close to us that they are part of our intimate circle. For a lot of us who are focused on attachment parenting, those intimate family relationships are the core of our motivation for all of these choices. We are creating our children’s reality. We are setting a pattern for what our children will celebrate as familiar.

One of the reasons I keep coming back to The Creative Family: How to Encourage Imagination and Nurture Family Connections is the coherence of the philosophy of keeping family close while encouraging a child’s freedom of creativity and action. Whether we call this attachment parenting or we just practice it in various forms of “don’t offer, don’t refuse,” balancing our support for each individual child’s need for connection and for independence is the challenge of parenting.

Spiraling around year after year to familiar celebrations is one of the ways we build that nurturing foundation for our children, the foundation that gives them grounding over time.

Making yourself conscious of your traditions as you build them with your young family, according to The Creative Family author Amanda Blake Soule, “can help voice or reaffirm what your family traditions are for yourself and your children, as well as help you reevaluate what you want for elements in your celebrations” (162).

I’ve been so focused on birthdays through this month (and it will continue for another week or so) that I wanted to share with you the Creative Family ideas for birthdays.

We’re all used to the ideas of a big party, presents, balloons, and cake, but here are a few ideas for some creative new ways to celebrate birthdays in your home. These ideas are centered on celebrating the child and who they are, with a little bit less focus on what they want and/or have.

She suggests:

  • a birthday garden, whether a plot or a pot;
  • love letters from parents to child, a beautiful collection over time; and
  • birthday blessings as everyone shares what they love about the birthday child, what they remember of the past year, or what they wish for the coming year

The nudge, push, and shove to celebrate in a particular way is strong, but you as a parent have all of the power to create a tradition of familiar celebrations that fit who you are and who you want to be.

Image © Wavebreakmedia Ltd | Dreamstime.com

Party Hats

Reusable chidren's party hats

Where the tradition of party hats comes from isn’t exactly clear.

During Roman Saturnalia, cheeky slaves wore freedmen’s hats, pointy hats made of red felt, as a reversal of social position. This type of hat became a symbol of liberty that evolved to become the more commonly worn Phrygian hat (think of a floppy red Santa cap). This type of pointy cap spread far and wide as a “liberty cap,” a revolutionary icon during the past two hundred years or so.

As a party hat, though, the turnabout hat-wearing tradition of Saturnalia and the paper crowns that we pop out of Christmas crackers seem closer to the celebratory hat wearing of birthday parties.

Hats can be practical, as in keeping one’s head warm, or they can be symbolic, often sending a social message through their shape or color. Wearing a birthday hat, in addition to the joy of dress up, sets the birthday girl or boy apart, showing that this hat wearer is the special person at this party.

Now, it’s common for all guests to wear party hats at birthdays, New Year, and Christmas. Everyone steps out of the ordinary into the special space a party creates for all.


Make Your Own Party Hats

You can buy adorable, reusable party hats made of felt, our you can make your own reusable hats. Many families have a collection of reusable hats for parties.

For a very simple party hat pattern, see Martha Stewart’s Party Hats. A plate becomes the pattern for a hat that takes just minutes to make. Rather than making your hats out of paper, you can use a couple of layers of wool felt or any stiffened fabric, sewing the overlapping edge. Add ribbon ties or a piece of elastic from ear to ear, and you have a reusable birthday party hat.

Birthday Party Themes for the Imaginative Young Child

Child pirate ready to party

Between the ages of 5 and 8 years old, children are immersed in imaginative play. They love dress up, and they don’t look for direction from adults in creating their characters. A birthday party for young children should take full advantage of this phase. Give the children plenty of chance to be the characters, to tell the story, and to make up the party as they go.


Kids Birthday Party Theme Ideas

For an imaginative play birthday party, set the scene and provide enough structure that the party still feels like a party. Once you show the children the direction for a game or activity, though, give them plenty of space to add their own creativity, noise, and enthusiasm.


Pirate Birthday Party

Reusable pirate party hats

Decorations. Bynature.ca carries the perfect pirate party decorations: a reusable party banner of pirate flags and reusable pirate hats. The rest of the party could include the brightest red or plainest white play silks as flags. If you have any parrot stuffed animals, they need to either go on someone’s shoulder or perch around the room. Transform the food table into a ship. Put snacks in a treasure chest, easily made from a box if you don’t have a chest handy. Use all of the blue play silks, blankets, and sheets to create a watery scene.

Reusable pirate party banner

Games & Activities. Every band of small pirates needs to go on a treasure hunt. When we had a pirate birthday party, we had both readers and non-readers, so we created both written and visual clues for the hunt. We made the hunt itself cooperative, so that all of the pirates had to reach the end together, and all of the gifts and favors were waiting at the end of the hunt. For other activities, you could have each guest take turns talking like a pirate and have everyone else try to translate what they say into English.

Food. My son had a brief obsession with pirate-themed food after we checked out The Pirate Cook Book from the library. I had to track down this out-of-print book and buy it. Jiggling juice bar icebergs, fish-shaped sandwiches, and twice-baked potato pirate boats came in handy at a couple of parties. The cake itself could be a treasure map, a ship, or chest of loot.

Favors. Our pirates took home their loot in cloth bandanas, but we also carry reusable pirate party gift bags. Appropriate loot for these bags would be gold (small cookies), jewelry (homemade), and snacks. I’m not sure Caribbean pirates looked for snacks, but I am sure your young pirates will like snacks.

Reusable goodie bags for pirate party


Dragon Themed Birthday Party

Silk dragon costume for kids

Decorations. How to decorate depends on the kind of dragons your child is interested in. Right now, my daughter is very interested in Chinese dragons. When she was small, she was more interested in the average cave-dwelling, treasure guarding dragon. Keep the party theme to one type of dragon, and create the party space as an appropriate lair. Some dragon parties might have the children fight the dragon, but I think the children will want to BE the dragon—a whole weyr (herd) of dragons.

If your child is turning 8 years old, this is a perfect time to have a dragon party. We carry a dragon number 8 for your Waldorf birthday ring.

Games & Activities. I like having one of the party activities be creating one’s own party favor. For a dragon party, a dragon puppet makes a great craft and favor. Children this age can sew, but a party is not the time for a closely supervised activity. Give each child a sock or another basic hand puppet shape. Provide pre-cut dragon scales, eyes, teeth, and other decorations along with glue. Give them general instructions, but they will have a good idea how to proceed. After they let their puppets dry as they eat or play, they can come back to the dragon puppets and all join together acting out a dragon drama. Another quick game could be Pin (or maybe Stick) the Scales on the Dragon.

Food. A dragon cake is great fun to decorate. I baked multiple round cakes and pieced them together to make a big, snaking dragon. I mounted the mouth on a large spatula to hold it open. I used gummy candy to decorate: gummy teeth for the mouth, Swedish fish for the scales, red licorice fire coming out of the mouth, and big gummy eyes staring out at all of the children. Even short of the 4-foot long monster I created, a dragon cake can be made at any scale. Even cupcakes can be made into dragon faces.

Favors. As with pirates, those who party with dragons often end up with gold, jewels, and similar loot. Maybe guests would like to take home a dragon soft toy or mask to continue the dress up and play. At my daughter’s dragon birthday party, guests had to work for their loot. We created a dragon out of a box about 4′ high and 2′ on each side. The teeth were made from egg cartons mounted on giant BBQ tongs. Children had to reach inside the dragon’s mouth to look for treasure. Sometimes they got little nips (though my husband was a very gentle dragon), but they all came away with gifts. The guests were 6 to 8 years old, and they screamed in delight at every bite.

Birthday ring dragon 8th birthday

Image © Showface | Dreamstime.com